Friday, August 26, 2011

Syllabus, Fall 2011

Introduction to Philosophical Ethics, PHI 302
Fall 2011


Note: Students are responsible for understanding all the information and policies presented in this syllabus. Students will be referred to it if they have questions that are answered here. A syllabus is not a contract and can be revised, if needed, to promote learning and other educational goals.

11- 11:50 AM course, Sale Hall ___: Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 44899 - HPHI 302G - 06
12- 12:50 PM   course, Sale Hall ___: Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 44894 - HPHI 302G - 01
1-1:50 PM        course, Sale Hall ___: Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 44895 - HPHI 302G - 02

Course blog (being phased out):

Instructor: Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.,
Telephone: 404-215-2607
Office: Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department
Office Hours: 2:00-3 PM MW and by appointment.

Department of Philosophy and Religion: Mission and Objectives:

The two-fold objective of this Department is to prepare students for graduate or professional study in the fields of philosophy and religious studies and to enable them to satisfy the College requirements in the general education program. The courses in philosophy and religion seek to provide the student not only with a firm base in these two academic disciplines, but also with a means for self-examination and self-orientation. The work in philosophy aims to develop a critical and analytical approach to all the major areas of human inquiry. The work in religion aims to describe, analyze and evaluate the role of religion in the life of humans since earliest times and how the religious quest continues as a variegated and often tortuous climb toward human growth and fulfillment.
1.      CATALOG COURSE DESCRIPTION: Provides an introduction to philosophical reflection about the nature and function of morality. Readings will include both historical and contemporary materials.

EXTENDED COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course provides students with the opportunity to improve their skills at reasoning critically about moral issues. Students will learn some basic logical concepts and argument analysis skills and apply them to theoretical and practical questions about morality. We will practice identifying clear (i.e., unambiguous) and precise moral conclusions (i.e., exact perspectives taken on moral issues) and the premises, or reasons, given for and against these conclusions. We will then practice evaluating these reasons to see if they provide rational support for these conclusions or not.
We will think about what helps people think more carefully and critically about moral issues and what factors and influences discourage this.     
We will discuss influential ethical theories and moral principles – answers to the questions ‘What’s the basic difference between a morally permissible and a morally impermissible (or wrong) action?’ and ‘What makes wrong actions wrong and what makes permissible actions permissible?’ – and apply our argument analysis skills to moral issues such as the treatment of disabled newborns, female genital mutilation, homosexuality, abortion, absolute poverty, racism, sexism, and speciesism, vegetarianism and the treatment of animals, euthanasia and assisted suicide, drug use, and capital punishment, among others.

2.      COURSE PREREQUISITES: There are no formal prerequisites for this course. However, students will benefit most from the course when they enter it with the abilities to:
a.       read critically and identify the structure and components of an argumentative essay or passage, i.e., the conclusion(s), the premises(s) or supporting elements, and so forth;
b.      write clear, concise and simple grammatical, spelling-error-free sentences and well-organized expository and argumentative essays, as taught in Introductory English courses;
c.       speak clearly, concisely, and grammatically.
·         Basic mathematical and scientific literacy is desirable.
·         Familiarity with moral issues, common positions taken on them and reasons given in favor of these positions is desirable, since we will build on any previous understanding.
·         Intellectual and moral virtues, such as curiosity, patience, and openness to the possibility of error and the need for change, are desirable as well.

3.      COURSE OBJECTIVES: Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to use the set of argument analysis skills below to identify and evaluate moral arguments:
a.       identify whether any presentation (“text”) is “morally argumentative” or not, i.e., whether it presents an argument for a moral conclusion on a moral issue or not;
b.      identify conclusions of morally argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate the conclusion in clear and precise terms; 
c.       identify stated premises or reasons in morally argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate these premises in clear and precise terms; 
d.      identify (if needed) unstated premises in argumentative presentations that are logically essential to the structure of an argument and state them as part of the argument in clear and precise terms;
e.       identify and distinguish factual/empirical/scientific and moral/philosophical premises in moral arguments;
f.       evaluate moral arguments as (1) logically valid or invalid (or otherwise logically cogent) and (2) sound or unsound (or otherwise strong);
g.       identify and explain reasons given to think an argument is sound, reasons to think it is unsound (often using counterexamples to general moral premises), and responses to these reasons.

Students will be able to accurately explain historically influential moral theories and common arguments against them, in light of their implications, explanatory power and theoretical virtues and vices.

Students will be able to accurately explain (in essays and oral presentations) the most common arguments given on a number of controversial moral issues, from a variety of perspectives, and criticisms of these arguments.

A GREEN SYLLABUS: This course contains content that allows it to contribute to Morehouse’s Institute for Sustainable Energy program, its planned academic Minor in Energy and the Morehouse-Wide Initiative for Sustainable Energy (M-WISE) program:
This content is indicated in green below.

4.      REQUIRED MATERIALS, which must always be brought to class.
  1. James and Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (McGraw Hill Publishing) (Any edition).
  2. James and Stuart Rachels, eds. The Right Thing to Do, (McGraw Hill Publishing) 4th Ed. (Any edition will do, but students are responsible for getting copies of any readings in the current edition not found in prior editions).
  3. Additional materials will be posted online and/or handed out in class.

  • 12 weekly short writing assignments, often on the readings, always due Monday before class through WebCT: 5 points each, 60 points total. ( 33% of total grade)
    • Writing assignment for this Monday (8/29): what makes a class go best for enabling you to learn the best you can, in terms of the material, structure, organization, classroom atmosphere, instructor’s behavior and attitude, your own behavior and attitude, and so on?
  • 4 Quizzes. Instead of having a traditional midterm and final exam, we will have some shorter quizzes that cover less material and provide more immediate feedback on your progress: 15 points each, 60 points total ( 33 % of total grade, total)
  • 3 Argumentative essays (approx 5 pages): 15 points each, 45 points total (25% of total grade)
  • Attendance and participation, including a spoken presentation and preparation of the “Minutes” – which is a review of last last’s material and discussion – and volunteering to lead class discussion at least once. 15 points. (8% of total grade)

No work will be accepted late except with a written, college-approved excuse.
Final grades will be determined by the quantity and quality of work done only: students who need a certain grade should work to ensure that they earn that grade.

Plagiarism and cheating is not allowed and will be severely penalized by either a zero on an assignment (and no chance for making up that assignment) or failing the course. Do not consult any outside sources for any assignments or examine the work of any other students – current or past students – unless directed to do so by the instructor.


Class attendance is required for all Morehouse College courses.  Each student is allowed four absences in this course. In addition, two late-arrivals will count as one absence. Students who are late are responsible for informing the instructor at the end of the class period that they are present, otherwise they may be recorded as absent.  Excuses for absences should be submitted no later than two weeks from occurrence. 
            Students who accumulate more than four officially unexcused absences may have their course grade lowered.  Daily attendance will be recorded.  Each student should keep a record of his or her absences.  Students who miss exams or quizzes due to unexcused absences will not be allowed to make them up.  Students who fail to submit the essays on the due date, without official excuse, may be penalized.  Students who take a trip that is officially sponsored (and therefore excused) by the College must inform the instructor prior to the trip to discuss how their class work can be made up. Students should make a point of informing the instructor of any required special accommodation.

Fall 2011 Academic Calendar
First Day of Class
End Drop/Add

Withdrawal Period Begins
Labor Day
October 10-14, 2011
Mid-term Week

November 7-11, 2011
Academic Advising Week

Web Registration Begins

Last Day to Withdraw

November 24-25, 2011
Thanksgiving Day

Last Day of Classes
December 1-2, 2011
Reading Period
December 1-2, 2011
Senior Final Exams
December 5-9, 2011
Final Exams

Senior Grades due by Noon

Semester Ends
All Final Grades due by Noon

First assignments; dates TBA:

Writing assignment for this Monday (8/29): what makes a class go best for enabling you to learn the best you can, in terms of the material, structure, organization, classroom atmosphere, instructor’s behavior and attitude, your own behavior and attitude, and so on?

o        Rachels, The Right Thing to Do (RTD: Ch. 2, “Some Basic Points About Arguments,” available here if you don’t yet have the books:
Handouts on Overview of Logic & Arguments
· Overview of Basic Moral Evaluations: Morally Permissible, Obligatory, Impermissible/Wrong
o See pp. 3, 5-8; also discusses logic and moral theories:
o        Rachels, The Right Thing to Do: Ch.1 “A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy,” available here if you don’t yet have the books: 
o        Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" (Elements of Moral Philosophy, EMP)  
o        "The New Eugenics," Matt Ridley (RTD, #36) [This goes with the bioethics theme of ch. 1.]

Order of Readings (however, we will not discuss all these readings below); exact dates and assignments will be announced in class and online:
1.       "Some Basic Points about Arguments," James Rachels (RTD, #2). Available here if you don’t yet have the books:

2.       James Rachels, "A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy" (RTD, #1). Available here if you don’t yet have the books:  

3.       Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" (Elements)
4.       "The New Eugenics," Matt Ridley (RTD, #36) [This goes with the bioethics theme of ch. 1.]

5.       Ch. 2, "The Challenge of Cultural Relativism" (Elements)
6.       “What’s Culture Got to Do with it? Excising the Harmful Tradition of Female Circumcision,” Harvard Law Review,
7.       "Monogamy: A Critique," John McMurtry (RTD, #28) [This goes with the brief discussion of polyamory on pp. 29-30 of Elements; the readings below also concern sexual ethics.]
8.       "Our Sexual Ethics," Bertrand Russell (RTD, #29)
9.       "Alcohol and Rape," Nicholas Dixon (RTD, #30)

10.   Ch. 3, "Subjectivism in Ethics" (Elements)
11.   "The Subjectivity of Values," J. L. Mackie (RTD, #6) [This defends a version of Ethical Subjectivism.]
12.   Richard Feldman on “Simple Moral Arguments”:
13.   "Is Homosexuality Unnatural?" Burton M. Leiser (RTD, #27) [This is an expanded version of the argument given on pp. 44-45 of Elements.]
Video: John Corvino: “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?”

14.   Ch. 4, "Does Morality Depend on Religion?" (Elements)
16.   "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion / Postscript on Infanticide," Mary Anne Warren (RTD, #13)
17.   "Why Abortion Is Immoral," Don Marquis (RTD, #11) [One aspect of the abortion debate is discussed on pp. 57-61 of Elements.]
18.   "A Defense of Abortion," Judith Jarvis Thomson (RTD, #12)

19.   Ch. 5, "Ethical Egoism" (Elements)
20.   "9/11 and Starvation," Mylan Engel, Jr. (RTD, #17) [Poverty is discussed on pp. 62-63 of Elements.]
21.   "The Singer Solution to World Poverty," Peter Singer (RTD, #18)

  • Nathan Nobis, entry on “Peter Singer,” in Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, J. Baird Callicott and Robert Frodeman, eds., Macmillan Reference, 2008:
  • Peter Singer, “One Atmosphere,” from his One World: The Ethics of Globalization (Yale University Press, 2002)
  • Carr, Edward R. “Sustainable Development” For the Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, Vol 2, J. Baird Callicott and Robert Frodeman, eds.  Macmillan Reference USA: 295-298, 2008.
There are many more resources on sustainability and sustainable development, justice and energy consumption, justice and pollution and related topics.

22.   "Is Racial Discrimination Arbitrary?" Peter Singer (RTD, #32) [This essay asks whether "The Principle of Equal Treatment" (as we call it on p. 77 of Elements) applies to three difficult test cases.]

23.   Ch. 6, "The Idea of a Social Contract" (Elements)
24.   "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr. (RTD, #31) [King's letter is quoted on pp. 90-91 of Elements.]
25.   "In Defense of Quotas," James Rachels (RTD, #33) [This reading goes with King's "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail." In King's day, America was so racist that preferential quotas were justified. Are they justified today?]

26.   Ch. 7, "The Utilitarian Approach" (Elements)
27.   "Utilitarianism," John Stuart Mill (RTD, #3)
29.   "The Morality of Euthanasia," James Rachels (RTD, #34) [Euthanasia is discussed on pp. 98-101 of Elements.]
30.   "Assisted Suicide: Pro-Choice or Anti-Life?" Richard Doerflinger (RTD, #35) [Assisted suicide is different from euthanasia, but the topics are similar.]

31.   "America's Unjust Drug War," Michael Huemer (RTD, #26) [Marijuana is discussed on pp. 101-104 of Elements.]

32.   "All Animals Are Equal," Peter Singer (RTD, #14) [The treatment of animals is discussed on pp. 104-108 of Elements.]
33.   "Torturing Puppies and Eating Meat: It's All in Good Taste," Alastair Norcross (RTD, #15)
34.   "Do Animals Have Rights?" Tibor R. Machan (RTD, #16)
35.   “Reasonable Humans and Animals,” John Simmons:

There are many more resources on animal agriculture and sustainability, energy consumption, global warming, pollution and related topics.

36.   Ch. 8, "The Debate over Utilitarianism" (Elements)
37.   "Utilitarianism and Integrity," Bernard Williams (RTD, #4) [This selection presents Williams' most famous objection to Utilitarianism.]
38.   "The Experience Machine," Robert Nozick (RTD, #5) [This selection presents Nozick's most famous objection to Hedonist Utilitarianism.]

39.   Ch. 9, "Are There Absolute Moral Rules?" (Elements)
40.   "The Categorical Imperative," Immanuel Kant (RTD, #7) [The Categorical Imperative is discussed on pp. 127-129 of Elements.]
41.   "The Ethics of War and Peace," Douglas P. Lackey (RTD, #19) [The Allies' conduct of the Second World War is discussed on pp. 124-126 of Elements.]
42.   "Fifty Years after Hiroshima," John Rawls (RTD, #20) [The bombing of Hiroshima is discussed on pp. 124-126 of Elements.]
43.   "What Is Wrong with Terrorism?" Thomas Nagel (RTD, #21) [The readings on war and terrorism go together. Also, Nagel implies that the prohibition on aiming at the death of a harmless person is an absolute moral rule.]
44.   "The War on Terrorism and the End of Human Rights," David Luban (RTD, #22) [This continues the themes of war and terrorism.]
45.   "Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb," David Luban (RTD, #23) [One may ask: is the prohibition on torture an absolute moral rule?]

46.   Ch. 10, "Kant and Respect for Persons" (Elements)
47.   "A Defense of the Death Penalty," Louis P. Pojman (RTD, #24) [Punishment is discussed on pp. 139-145 of Elements. We discuss the death penalty specifically on p. 143.]
48.   "Why the United States Will Join the Rest of the World in Abandoning Capital Punishment," Stephen B. Bright (RTD, #25)

49.   Ch. 11, "Feminism and the Ethics of Care" (Elements)
50.   "Caring Relations and Principles of Justice," Virginia Held (RTD, #10) [See pp. 152-157 of Elements.]

51.   Ch. 12, "The Ethics of Virtue" (Elements)
52.   "The Virtues," Aristotle (RTD, #8)
53.   "Master Morality and Slave Morality," Friedrich Nietzsche (RTD, #9) [Nietzsche glorifies the virtues of "master morality" and ridicules the vices of "slave morality."]

54.   Ch. 13, "What Would a Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?" (Elements)

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